How to Make Your Website Secure: A Beginner’s Guide

Woman typing on laptop Adobe

In recent years, having an online presence has become almost mandatory for businesses. With unprecedented access to new customers and markets, the internet allows entrepreneurs to expand their ventures like never before.

If you are a small business owner in 2020, having a website and social media presence is fast becoming the bare minimum to market yourself and attract new customers. Unfortunately, it is not just entrepreneurs who are keenly aware of the possibilities created by the internet.

Enterprising criminals have long since targeted business websites in search of easy targets for fraud or theft. Entrepreneurs often have a false sense of security, as they consider themselves invisible to online fraudsters and hackers due to the small size of their enterprises.

In reality, however, the opposite is true. Large enterprises have the resources required to afford expert cybersecurity teams and expensive IT infrastructure for better security. Smaller firms present a far easier target for cybercriminals.

According to a recent US government report, businesses typically face over 100 cyber attacks a year, with over 40% of SMEs suffering considerable damage. The UK National Cyber Security Center, meanwhile, claims that small enterprises have a 50% chance of getting attacked online.

As eCommerce expands globally with each passing year, these figures are only likely to get worse. Therefore, you need to protect your organisation, even if your resources are thinly spread. There are basic steps you can follow to ensure that your website is less appealing to potential threats. 

This is how to make your website secure in seven simple steps:

1. Choose Your Website Host With Care

Cash is vital for small businesses, as there are numerous outgoings that have to be accounted for every month. As a result, when it comes to certain resources, many entrepreneurs can be guilty of looking for the cheapest option available.

While this mantra may be acceptable for certain aspects of your business, it isn't for others. Indeed, when it comes to online services such as web hosting, this approach can hurt you in the long run. Avoid scraping at the bottom of the proverbial barrel when shopping for a hosting service for your website.

Generally speaking, cheaper hosts tend to have less secure servers; if you leave your valuable customer data and other financial information under the care of such companies, you are basically asking for trouble. This isn't to say that high-end hosting services are impenetrable, of course, but you should always look for providers that offer multiple security features, such as protection against DDoS attacks and web app firewalls (WAF).

You may not be able to afford a top of the line web hosting service for your business, but it is not too hard to find a reasonable plan that provides an adequate level of protection – without breaking the bank.

2. Invest in a Separate Malware Protection Service

As a general rule, it is not advisable to leave your website security solely in the hands of your hosting service. This is akin to leaving your apartment protection in the hands of your landlord; they may be responsible for securing your building premises, but it is up to you to ensure that your doors and windows are locked.

Investing in high-quality anti-virus software is a given. Modern cybercriminals often utilise large-scale malware and ransomware attacks to access valuable data, with the implementation of sophisticated programmes such as WannaCry (2017) and Petya (2016) just two recent examples.

If your website and its underlying databases becomes compromised by worms or viruses, your entire IT infrastructure can be affected, leading to costly loss of data and making you vulnerable to data privacy lawsuits from customers and regulatory bodies.

3. Get an SSL Certificate for Your Website

If you plan to conduct eCommerce and online transactions through your business website, then purchasing a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate is no longer recommended – it is virtually mandatory. It is also necessary if your site has data collection points targeting your customers and clients through registrations or customer care.

SSL certification ensures that the connection between your website and the device used by the visitor is kept secure. It encrypts all data sent between these two locations, keeping it safe from cybercriminals. URLs that possess this security measure are displayed as 'HTTPS'. In contrast, those that don't are 'HTTP', with customers always advised never to make purchases or submit data unless a security certificate is in place.

Having an SSL certificate is also useful for authenticating your website. Customers can identify fake sites that masquerade as your own, as they will not have the SSL-secured identifiers. This also vastly improves your visibility on Google, as the search engine has been giving preference to websites that have this measure in place since 2014.

4. Keep All Software and Plugins Updated at all Times

There is a compelling reason why Microsoft opted for mandatory security updates on the latest edition of Windows: most users often postpone software updates, sometimes for weeks or even months. This creates a severe risk as hackers regularly – and successfully – target the security flaws and loopholes of outdated software.

When it comes to website security, software updates related to any plugins you use on the site are very important. Whenever you install a new add-on to your site, first check to see its overall rating and the frequency of security updates and patches. As a general rule, you should avoid using software that has not been updated in a long time.

5. Create Tiered Levels of Access for Employees

In computer security, varying levels of access are used to reduce the impact of human error and negligence from affecting the entire system. In a business, it is quite usual for employees to have separate login credentials. 

For managing your website, you will need the services and expertise of several employees, and maybe even outside contractors or freelancers. Having different levels of access privileges for each account is crucial to keeping your website secure in this situation.

Only a handful of people, including yourself, should have privileged access to all parts of the website. If you leave too many people with full access to all areas, it increases the chances of mistakes and security breaches.

6. Use Secure Passwords and Two-Factor Authentication

Most of us hate the way we have to deal with multiple passwords in our digital lives. As a result, many users do not bother to set complicated and secure passwords for their online accounts – nor do they bother to change them frequently.

Unfortunately, this makes it easy for cybercriminals to spot vulnerabilities and exploit them. As a business owner, the onus is on you to enforce strict password policy in the workplace. Employees should be trained to follow the best practices in password management, as recommended by cybersecurity experts.

Using an extra layer of security, in the form of two-factor authentication, can also deter hacking attempts and data breaches. You will often find this feature, which involves the use of a second code available only to bonafide users, in modern content management systems (CMS).

7. Schedule Frequent Automatic Backups

Even when following best practices in basic online security, things can – and will – go wrong at some point. Sometimes, it could be something entirely out of your hands, like server failure at your web host service provider.

This is why data backups exist on modern computer systems. If you have essential data online on your website that your business cannot afford to lose, you should definitely invest in an automated backup solution. There are many options available for this, including specialist software, cloud-based solutions, and manual backups using a dedicated secure server.

---

Was this article helpful? What other basic tips would you advise to enhance website security for business owners? Let us know in the comment section below!